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Interview: Emily Fairlight Talks Self-Care and Dark Influences

Interview: Emily Fairlight Talks Self-Care and Dark Influences

Paul Taylor / Wednesday 15th August, 2018 1:12PM

Wellington-based songwriter and poet Emily Fairlight has everything you want in someone who makes music, she’s been there, done that and felt it. Her songs are a little on the dark side but pretty with a matter-of-fact delivery. She and her band, featuring players from Fur Patrol and The Datsuns, are playing at Auckland's Anthology Lounge on Saturday night, along with a special in-store appearance at Marbecks Records on Friday. The artist chatted with Paul Taylor about the circumstances surrounding her acclaimed new sophomore album Mother Of Gloom and more, read their conversation below...

I have to say I’m taken by the music Emily - love me a little of the dark stuff. Do you think you’d ever want write anything that was brighter in terms of sound or is that just somewhere you’d never think of going?

I always loved the dark songs on records! I think the next album will be different again though, perhaps a little more retrospective, perhaps some hopeful moments.

Do you think as New Zealanders, being quite a harsh place geographically, and now perhaps sadly in some other ways as well, that we might be able to more easily access those darker places?

I guess so, I mean we are all also close to the mountains, the ocean, the forest. I guess those things can make you feel insignificant and overwhelmed. So I certainly like to draw on that when writing, and hell yeah long nights... weeks on end of rain. It's a different kind of inspiring haha.

Heck of a back-story regarding being injured [Emily Fairlight suffered from a serious brain injury between albums]. You seem to have been able to turn a potentially devastating situation into a power source… you seem quite mindful and self-aware - is that an important quality do you think?

Yeah I'm proud of what I achieved with the album, and the songs. But I'm still an incredibly haphazard person - some shit doesn't come back after a brain injury - so I feel genuinely surprised when I manage to pull things off / have some successes! But a bit of disorganization and some memory loss is a good trade for the tangent in writing style. I try to be mindful and self-aware, and believe them to be strong qualities when writing, but also sometimes a song just needs to say "fuck you" and that's okay too.

There was a piece in a RadioActive interview around your self-care as a creative person, I guess recognising the… baggage, that comes with seeing the world through an artist's eyes. Is there anything you’d like to add to that discussion?

This is always a changing process for me to be honest... sometimes anxiety, self-doubt, the fear all get the better of you. Not just in music either, so I guess I feel lucky to have that as an outlet. Harness it, write through it, sleep, sleep, eat, eat, walk, walk, run maybe... and just be kind, recognise your limits and those of others. Don't drink too much, unless you're drinking too much, in which case, enjoy yourself.

What made you start writing / singing?

I wrote my first song about our family dog Gordon dying.. was probably about 6 or 7... guess that started me down the dark path! But yeah we also did the baptist church buzz until I was about 10 and that was big theatre church experience, band, speaking in tongues - the whole shebang! My uncle is the only other musician in the family, I used to go to his band practices when I was a little girl and play the tambourine and sing along... so I had a few inroads to music and writing, not that I really explored them until my 20s.

Why did you run away from Christchurch?

Which time? Ha-ha. Impulse, boredom, change of scene, change of people. I've been pretty fluid for the last few years I guess... if I need a change, I make it. Gonna move to Dunedin soon haha.

You’ve really covered some ground - done so much to inform your stories and point of view. Got any other places you'd like to experience, anywhere that you’d like to go to have it directly influence your music in the future?

The journey is long. But enjoyable and some of it I remember, and some of it I'm glad I don't haha. Did circus for a few years, wrote bad poetry for too many more, got a guitar, learned A minor, the rest is history! I plan go back to the states, I realise it's a harder place to tour than say Europe, which I will go there too, but I love it there, and plan to go west coast next time as well, in an exciting new band formation.

Is Emily Fairlight a nom de plume? I can just see it beautifully typeset, chrome on a speaker, like it’s a perfect name for a singer!

Thank you. Fairlight is actually my middle name. The name is from a novel called Christy - Fairlight was a fiddle player who died of typhoid in Appalachia in 1912. I always thought it sounded a bit "tea folk" comparatively with my music, but hey I'm stuck now haha.

Who do you admire, lyrically, sonically? In some moments there’s a similar feel to Julia Jacklin, but I feel like with you there’s more genuine depth. Do you think that could be because you’ve been around (on earth) longer than she has... does life experience count artistically?

I love Julia Jacklin! A very flattering comparison, thank you! And yes, I am older than her... probably much older so I've had plenty of time to travel to the dark side, and taken a few more knocks perhaps.

I think life experience counts but is not always essential. I wish I was writing songs like Julia Jacklin at her age! Ummm Angel Olsen is a lyrical boss, and love her sonically... everything sounds like it's on the edge of peaking at all times. But yeah, many others (morning brain function low), Neutral Milk Hotel was a massive part of why I started writing, and Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen...

I never try to write a particular kind of song, they just happen, so I guess they reflect my surroundings for that reason. Lyttelton is a good setting for writing for that reason. When I was writing the rest of the album I was just housesitting in Wellington, moving every week or two, different views, different surroundings, car full of belongings. I always struggle to define my music to people.. so always answer differently if people ask the "what kind of music do you play" question.

The video for 'The Escape' is so effortlessly of New Zealand, does that matter to you. Where and who we are?

I really wanted that video to reflect my childhood in the 80s in NZ (because it's when/where I grew up).. it matters I guess, because it's a nice "easier times" memory for me, life only gets more complicated as you get older. But I'm not a particularly nostalgic person, and can be happy wherever I am in the world. New Zealand is beaut, but the world is big and inviting.

So love the stills shot on the rugby field…

Haha it was just nearby, and made sense! In Lyttelton... and was just after shooting the video for 'The Escape' so still had the bike, I biked down and the photographer Justyn Rebecca followed me in her car. I like thinking up good places / scenes / outfits to shoot in! Just takes me a while to get comfortable in front of the camera...

I also like how young that whole vibe feels…

I never grew up, thankfully haha.

What can we do to hear more see more of you? How are you getting your music out there?

I am playing Auckland Saturday August 18th at Anthology Lounge... then have a little exciting (still secret) support slot tour in September and October.

'Mother Of Gloom' is out now.


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Emily Fairlight - Mother Of Gloom Album Release
Sat 18th Aug 7:00pm
Anthology Lounge, Auckland